College Football Nation: Ed Zaunbrecher
HOUSTON -- The first thing Ed Zaunbrecher told his quarterbacks when he took over as Rice's offensive coordinator in January was that each of them had a clean slate.
And since Zaunbrecher was inheriting a team that lost quarterback Chase Clement, receiver Jarett Dillard and tight end James Casey, players who accounted for almost all of the team's offense, he was essentially starting with a clean slate, too.
Zaunbrecher didn't come in with radical changes to the offense (the terminology is the same). But Zaunbrecher said there would be minor tweaks to it to fit the starting quarterback -- a quarterback that has yet to be named.
Zaunbrecher has three quarterbacking choices and has spent the spring and the past week charting everything from completions to decision making in an effort to find the right quarterback to keep the Rice offense rolling after a 10-3 season.
Senior John Thomas Shepherd is the team's best rushing threat. Alabama transfer Nick Fanuzzi has the best arm. And redshirt freshman Ryan Lewis has the ability to do both. Zaunbrecher said he plans on sorting out the quarterbacking situation this week. And while he'd like to have a true starter, he's not opposed to playing two guys if they both provide needs for the offense.
"You can't say you've got three quarterbacks and you're going to play all three guys," Zaunbrecher said. "If you play two, you're not really alternating them. One guy plays and the other guy plays some. That's the way I've done it before and it's worked out well."
Zaunbrecher is quick to point out that none of the three players in contention is as versatile as Clement. None can consistently run and pass at a high level. But, he said, the Owls' running backs are playing a bigger role in the offense, which might alleviate some of the pressure of trying to find a dual-threat quarterback.
For Shepherd, who was recruited by Ken Hatfield to be an option quarterback, this is his last chance. During his four previous seasons, Shepherd, who has played for four different position coaches, has spent most of his career as Clement's backup. He's the only quarterback with game experience and had Zaunbrecher not opened the quarterback position up, he would have been the frontrunner.
"That was kind of tough just because of the fact that I've had some experience and played some games and [former offensive coordinator] Coach [Tom] Herman has seen what I can do," Shepherd said.
Fanuzzi spent his first year at Alabama, but wasn't sure it was an offense in which he would excel. He liked the competition of the SEC and the coaching of Nick Saban, but he thought he'd have a better chance of playing at Rice, which was near to his hometown of San Antonio.
And Lewis is the dark horse. He's also a baseball player. Last season, he hit .289 in 22 games while playing outfield or designated hitter.
Zaunbrecher stressed that while it would be nice to find the next Clement, it's unrealistic to ask any of the three players to fill those shoes. Clement finished his career as the school record holder in passing yards, touchdown passes, completions and attempts.
So, as Zaunbrecher looks to narrow the quarterbacking field this week, each player is going to play to his strengths.
"You never know," Zaunbrecher said. "All three of them could end up playing if someone gets banged up or we want to change the pace or something. And even when we [choose a starter] they'll have to understand that doesn't mean they're cast out forever. It's just right now, someone else is ahead of them."
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Purdue's hiring of defensive coordinator Donn Landholm on Monday likely marks the end to the major coaching moves in the Big Ten this year.
There have been no head-coaching changes -- Danny Hope was named Purdue's head coach-in-waiting last year -- and unless Iowa's Kirk Ferentz bolts for the Kansas City Chiefs, which isn't likely, all 11 teams will have continuity on top. But there were several key changes among coordinators and key position coaches.
Here's a summary.
Offensive coordinator: Mike Locksley left to become New Mexico's head coach. Illinois hired TCU offensive coordinator Mike Schultz as his replacement.
Defensive line: Ron Zook fired Tom Sims and hired Cincinnati's Keith Gilmore.
Offensive line: Eric Wolford left for the same post at South Carolina, and Zook hired Houston's Joe Gilbert as his replacement.
Notes: Arguably Illinois' biggest coaching move was one that didn't happen. Zook offered Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson the chance to be Illinois' defensive coordinator, but the ace recruiter opted to stay at State College.
Notes: Despite a 3-9 season that saw regression on both sides of the ball, head coach Bill Lynch said he didn't expect to make any staff changes for 2009.
Notes: Ferentz is being mentioned as a candidate for the Chiefs' head-coaching vacancy because of his ties to new general manager Scott Pioli, but it appears likely he will remain at Iowa for an 11th season. He will hold a signing day news conference scheduled for Feb. 4 and has talked with athletic director Gary Barta about a contract extension.
Defensive coordinator: Scott Shafer resigned and later took the same job at Syracuse. Michigan hired former Syracuse head coach Greg Robinson as Shafer's replacement.
Notes: Head coach Rich Rodriguez took his time with the search, and Robinson actually reached out to him about the defensive coordinator vacancy.
Notes: Offensive coordinator Don Treadwell was in the mix for several head-coaching spots (Miami University, Boston College) but will stay put for 2009.
Offensive coordinator: Mike Dunbar resigned Jan. 6 to pursue other professional opportunities. Minnesota hired former Denver Broncos wide receivers coach Jedd Fisch as Dunbar's replacement.
Defensive coordinator: Ted Roof resigned Jan. 6 to take the same post at Auburn. Gophers head coach Tim Brewster hired former Nebraska and Wisconsin defensive coordinator Kevin Cosgrove, who will share coordinator duties with defensive backs coach Ron Lee.
Notes: Fisch will call the offensive plays, but he must collaborate with Tim Davis, the team's new offensive line coach and run game coordinator. Davis, who replaces Phil Meyer, was hired in late November to transform Minnesota's run game and return the team to its roots as a dominant rushing attack.
Offensive line: Bret Ingalls left for the New Orleans Saints. Head coach Pat Fitzgerald told me he's not concerned about naming a replacement until after signing day, but indications are Adam Cushing, the H-backs coach and recruiting coordinator, will be promoted to line coach.
Notes: Athletic director Jim Phillips wants to work out a contract extension for Fitzgerald and likely will announce one in the coming weeks or months.
Notes: Some expected offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Jim Bollman to get the axe, and while it still could happen, head coach Jim Tressel is the primary playcaller and responsible for the unit's success. Co-defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Luke Fickell was mentioned as a candidate for the head-coaching vacancy at Bowling Green.
Notes: Penn State retained Larry Johnson despite Illinois offering more money and a coordinator position. Longtime defensive coordinator Tom Bradley also remains despite some rumors that he was a candidate for the top job at Syracuse.
Offensive coordinator: Ed Zaunbrecher was fired and replaced by Florida Atlantic offensive coordinator Gary Nord.
Defensive coordinator: Longtime Boilers defensive coordinator Brock Spack left to become Illinois State's head coach. Hope hired his former Eastern Kentucky staffer Landholm as Spack's replacement.
Running backs: Joel Thomas left for the same job at Washington, and Hope hired former Kansas State assistant Cornell Jackson as his replacement.
Offensive line: Hope handled the line in 2008 and hired his former Eastern Kentucky staffer Shawn Clark to replace him.
Special teams: Hope moved Mark Hagen from special teams to linebackers and promoted graduate assistant J.B. Gibboney to this post.
Notes: Tight ends coach John McDonnell was not retained for 2009, and a replacement hasn't been named. Terrell Williams will once again coach the entire defensive line this fall after working strictly with the ends in 2008.
Notes: After firing veteran defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz and seeing offensive line coach Bob Palcic leave for UCLA last year, head coach Bret Bielema is keeping his staff in place despite a very disappointing 2008 season.
Posted by ESPN.com's Adam Rittenberg
Check out these links after we finish chatting.
- Iowa running back Shonn Greene isn't ruling out the possibility of going pro after the season, Randy Peterson writes in the Des Moines Register
- Illinois backup quarterback Eddie McGee won't be suspended following his arrest last weekend, Terry Bannon writes in the Chicago Tribune.
- Michigan still doesn't know whether quarterback Steven Threet (elbow) will be available Saturday at Penn State, Angelique Chengelis writes in The Detroit News.
- Wolverines coach Rich Rodriguez isn't feeling sorry for himself despite the team's struggles, CBSsports.com's Dennis Dodd writes.
- Talk about tough. Minnesota quarterback Adam Weber took just five days to recover from knee surgery and didn't miss a game, Kent Youngblood writes in the Star Tribune.
- Purdue offensive coordinator Ed Zaunbrecher will match wits with a friend Saturday at Northwestern, Tom Kubat writes in The Journal and Courier.
- Northwestern's inability to stretch the field has hindered the offense this season, Jim O'Donnell writes in the Chicago Sun-Times.